The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Monday, 30 August 2010

August Roundup

This is a picture that I took while on holiday in Hampshire at the beginning of the month, in beautiful Mottisfont Abbey gardens, owned by the National Trust.
Read - 3 and a quarter books, not a bad month at all.
Completed -
A Month in the Country by J L Carr
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Currently Reading - An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge
TBR Pile - currently at 83 books (according to GoodReads) with 5 added...
The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Ines of my Soul by Isabelle Allende
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
Challenges - read and finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as my 'read another American classic'. Also bought another Charles de Lint (see above) to read another of his, as set by me at the beginning of the year for directional reading challenges.
Wishlist Additions -
Wildwood by Robert Deakin
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
Juliet by Anne Fortier
Discoveries - A lovely website called Forgotten Bookmarks written by someone who works in a secondhand bookshop and records everthing that they find in the books, from photos, lists, letters, tickets and lots of unusual things. I spent ages on it and some of the finds are really moving.
Events - Of course the rest of my Jane Austen holiday at the beginning of the month, and also planning the next one! Lots of ideas and information coming in already, as well as interest from a number of people.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Month in the Country by J L Carr

I know I only got this a month or so ago, and with over 80 odd books on my TBR pile I don't have any excuses really, except that I could not resist this one, for reasons explained on my Rural Novels post. It is only 85 pages so more of a novella really.
Set in Yorkshire just after the First World War, Tom Birkin arrives at Oxgodby to restore a medieval wall painting in a small church. He is also seeking refuge and peace after the horrors he has seen, betrayed by a stammer and a twitch. Tom is our narrator, as he reflects on that long-ago summer from old age, with nostalgia for a lost rurality and more than a little humour. Living in the bell tower during that hot summer he describes his sleepy and beautiful surroundings, and his relationships with the local's with affection, his friendship with Charles Moon who was also in the war, his crush on the vicar's wife, and his admiration for the artist who created the fresco and the mysteries it holds. During his stay amongst the quiet and rhythmic hum of the countryside, Tom Birkin begins to heal.
The humour of the narration makes this book very easy to read, and the warmth of the summer is tangible through Tom. This is not a fast paced book full of action. It is instead a wonderful meditation about people and their surroundings, and appreciating it for what it is, before it is lost forever. Tom is irresistably drawn into the lives of the locals, by his routine, and by the mysterious painter who never managed to finish the work on the chapel wall, which is of a rare quality. There are some sadnesses along the way, especially Moon's background in the war. These are only alluded to, and the rest is left to your imagination. Their experiences are not less for this. You know Tom is haunted enough to get a tic and seek some peace. This is an upbeat study about how one man tries to quiet his mind, told with witty observations and warmth.
I already knew the story having seen the film (which adds a few details where the novel holds back) so I knew what it was about. I loved the film, with Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, and I really enjoyed reading this book. The whole thing feels like something to savour and I recommend it highly.
Bookrags has a study guide for A Month in the Country, which may be of use for book group discussion.
There is also a good article from The Independent about the author you may find interesting, entitled The Last Englishman: The Life of J L Carr by Byron Rogers

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Novel Holiday - Jane Austen in Hampshire

You may remember back in April I spoke about organising a holiday in Hampshire for some friends, our first Novel Holiday, with a set book in an area that included places to visit that celebrated either the book or the author. We got back just over a week ago.
We stayed in a lovely wood cabin in the New Forest. There were 4 of us altogether, myself L, and S, A and R. R stayed for 4 nights, and the rest of us had the cabin for a week.
Although Bath is heavily associated with Jane Austen, Hampshire is where she lived most of her life so it was perfect for this type of holiday.
Our set books were Emma by Austen, and also a contemporary novel, The Blue Fox by Sjon, which we were to discuss on holiday. I didn't know how that part of the holiday would go, but I needn't have worried because the discussions went really well.
We talked about Emma on the first morning after breakfast. Accompanied by a handout with some context, the conversation covered opinions about the book and the characters, and went on to include feminism and the rights of women, marriage, and also the historical contexts of the book. Not everyone had finished the book, but the discussion still went on for an hour and a half anyway. R, who had read all of Jane Austen's novels years ago, really enjoyed re-reading Emma so much, she said she wanted to read the others again. A had not read it but wanted to at the end of the discussion and started the book while on holiday. When we had finished talking, it seemed a good time to have our bookswap, where a number of books found new homes. I came away with 2...The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
The following day was our Jane Austen day. We visited Steventon first, where her father and brother had been rectors at the village church, and Jane lived her earlier years in a house that is no longer there. You can see her brothers grave in the church yard and the setting is really peaceful. We then drove to Chawton where her house in the village is now a Jane Austen museum. She moved here after living in Bath and there is a lot of memorabilia here, as well as information about her life. The table where she wrote her later novels, Emma and Persuasion, is still there. The gardens are also pretty, as is the village. We didn't have time to walk to the church but Jane's sister and mother are buried there. Lastly we drove to Winchester where Jane is buried in the cathedral. You can see her grave stone as well as the monument to her life and work. The cathedral has also exhibited a display about her life.
The following day we spoke about The Blue Fox. I had enjoyed it, as had R. S and A were more perplexed by it and A felt she hadn't understood it at all. Our discussion, which took about an hour, confirmed this to her. We examined the format of the book, the style, and also its 3 parts. As we did this, more meanings came to light. We also discussed whether the references to Icelandic legends enhanced or detracted from the book, with none of us knowing the background to them. Two of us thought that it added to the mysteriousness, but two of us felt they were missing out on some of it.
After talking we did our lucky dip book. I got Ines of my Soul by Isabelle Allende. We then talked about our recommendations and I compiled a list, as well as a list of all the other books that had come up during our discussions, to send on after the holiday.
Of course we did lots of other things that were not book related...walking in the New Forest, a visit to Salisbury, and also a day at Mottisfont Abbey (a National Trust property with beautiful gardens full of butterflies, including a Victorian walled garden). We also watched the excellent and very funny Lost in Austen series on DVD.
Everyone has said they really enjoyed the holiday and would be interested in doing another one next year. No one said that they were sick of Jane Austen at the end, mainly because we didn't overdo it and interspersed it with other things too. Hampshire and the New Forest were perfect for this. A beautiful part of the country. In fact A went back and immediately watched a film version of Emma while finishing the book, and wants to buy a copy of Lost in Austen.
I really enjoyed it. I thought the balance of stuff to do worked very well, the discussions went better than I could have hoped, and I loved the whole week. I also enjoyed putting the whole thing together.
I am currently researching our holiday for next year.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

July Roundup

This lovely picture is of Jane Austen's House in Chawton, Hampshire, where I was exactly one week ago. You can read more about it on InfoBritain. My post about the Jane Austen holiday will be coming soon, I just couldn't resist this picture.
Read - 1 book
Completed - The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Currently Reading - The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
TBR Pile - at 81 books (according to GoodReads) with one book added...
A Month in the Country by J L Carr
Challenges - completed my own challenge to 'read another Russian' with The Master and Margarita.
Wishlist Additions -
The Allotment Book: Seasonal Planner and Cookbook by Andi Clevely
On the Plot with Dirty Nails by Joe Hashman
Discoveries - A Month in the Country by J L Carr
Events - The beginning of our Jane Austen holiday in Hampshire, to be covered in my next post.
Loving the new Sherlock series on BBC at the moment with Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern day version of the famous sleuth.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye